Wordtrade.com LogoWordtrade.com
Contemporary Philosophy


Review Essays of Academic, Professional & Technical Books in the Humanities & Sciences



Becoming Human: New Perspectives on the Inhuman Condition edited by Paul Sheehan (Praeger) The postmodern condition has delivered us into a world where our "humanity" can no longer be taken for granted. Whether his place is ceded to nature or technology, "man" is no longer "the measure of all things," rather, he is locked into processes in which the only permanence is change. Becoming Human offers a sustained engagement with these and other paradoxes about human being and its nature in the 21st-century world. Beginning with the notion that the human is not an immutable "given" but rather an ever-changing entity, this collection of essays considers our multifarious condition through the perspective of a variety of fields, including philosophy, sociology, literature, and film studies.

In this book, the authors make coherent and accessible a sprawling field. The diversity of writers and approaches challenges current thinking about humanity, providing material for future scholars and researchers and prompting us to ponder these questions more deeply, while at the same time offering the reader a comprehensive, intelligible survey of recent inquiries into a potentially bewildering field.

Table of Contents: Foreword by Steven Connor; Introduction: Contingencies of Humanness by Paul Sheehan; 
The Backgrounds of Human Being:
Humanism and Human Being: Beyond Essentialism by Tom Rockmore; The Rehumanization of Art: Modernism, Technology, and The Crisis of Humanism by Michael Hollington; Is Humour Human by Simon Critchley; Naturalising Human Dominion:
Philosophie au Naturel by John Mullarkey; Culture and Nature: The Mythic Register by Kate Soper; The Way of the World: Nature, History, Human Ontology by Joseph Margolis;
Screen Narratives of Human Becoming:
Death 24 Times a Second: The Inorganic Body and the Cinema by Laura Mulvey; Towards a New Demonology by Steven Connor; Rights of Sacrifice by Richard Kearney; The Project of Humanity by Zygmunt Bauman; Value, Justice, and the Wilderness Ideal by John O'Neill; On Critical Humility by Thomas Docherty; Further Reading; Selected Bibliography; About the Contributors

 The Human Being in History: Freedom, Power, and Shared Ontological Meaning by Hector Daniel Dei, James G. Colbert (Lexington Books: Rowman & Littlefield) "is an illuminating contribution to the search for an answer to the questions of what it is to be humananthropodicyand of how we are to regard `the other.' Coming from `the margins' of the contemporary world, Dei offers the experience of Latin America as a guide for addressing this crisis of meaning that particularly affects post-industrial society characteristic of `the center'of European and American cultures." William Sweet.

The Human Being in History affirms the ontological dignity of the human being and calls for liberation and empowerment in the face of a global power which seeks to reduce every other. H. Daniel Dei, Professor at the University of Moron in Buenos Aires , Argentina , argues that the challenges posed by the twenty-first century are not just political, economic, and social, but also existential and metaphysical. In the face of these challenges, philosophy must show how to confront issues in a new waynot as problems that admit technical resolution, but as questions that involve openness to meaning and demand the exercise of freedom. Dei also insists that definitions of freedom and power must be reexamined and changed from their current meanings, which emphasize appropriation and the exercise of national identity, into concepts that emphasize humanity's ability to reshape the meaning of events and discover our own destiny. This new translation by James G. Colbert introduces the work of a marginal yet truly forward-thinking philosopher to English-speaking audiences, and is sure to enrich philosophical discussions on the future of man in the twenty-first century.

Postmodernity is a reaction to modernity. In philosophy or in our historical consciousness it has taken different shapes. In analytical philosophy it has gone the way of language games, where use or the intention to dominate defines the meaning of terms. In social philosophy it has become a discourse behind a veil of ignorance, where rules of justice are set up purely in terms of maximizing individual self-interest, as if nothing had already happened rationally or historically to draw human beings together in mutual recognition of one another. In anthropology or in the philosophy of human existence it has opened the flood-gates of deconstruction and dissolution of any human ambition to beM something or to make something of oneself in the world, as if the failure of a Euro-centered modernity were the only paradigm for any future humanization.

Euro-centered modernity, which includes a North American version, not to mention a Japanese or an Asian Tiger version, has had its own narrative, its own discourse placing "man and his activities within a totalizing discourse," but the narrative does not always tell the entire story of humanization and dehumanization that has gone on in modem historical consciousness. To be sure, it tells the story of the human conquest of nature, industrialization, and the mobilization of technology at the service of human interests. But it does not tell the story of the loss of humanity in the process, the story of conquest over other human beings who have been excluded from the historical process, marginalized, if not totally eliminated, from what has made itself the center stage of world history. It hardly ever looks at the dehumanizing consequences of its conquests around the world, its colonialism, and its continuing rampage of cultural invasion through the juggernaut of multinational corporations trying to re-create the world in their own image and likeness.

The narrative of modernity, when told from the center, tends to overlook these dehumanizing consequences of its conquistatorial attitude. In fact, it shows little or no interest in what happens to human beings at the margins of conquest and exploitation, not to mention the explicit contempt for any semblance of humanity other than its own which one finds at times in the most sophisticated modem philosophies of history. From the margin, this dehumanization cannot be ignored and the problem of humanization comes once again to the fore in a new and more radical way after having been pushed off the center stage of modernity.

If we take postmodernity to be a metanarrative taking off from and taking issue with the narrative of modernity, we can see that it can take two forms, given the full story of modernity, one from the center and one from the margin. The postmodern view of modernity and of humanity in the making can be quite different at the margin than it is at the center. From the center it is possible to become critical of the modern shape historical humanization has taken, but those who have gained some advantage or comfort from the central power of modernity hesitate or stop short in this critique. They become complicit in the modem shape of consciousness as they cling to the historical standing they have gained in it. They have gained authority and power through this shape, and they are reluctant to slough it off completely in order to start anew completely in their historical consciousness. From the margin, one does not have such advantages and comforts to worry about. One has only one's liberation and humanization to think about. One is less prone to bad faith in raising anew the most critical question of historical humanization for everyone, not just the privileged few.

It is sometimes argued in the philosophy of liberation, which is the philosophy from the margin par excellence, that in a dehumanized world of oppressors and oppressed those who will be the true agents of humanization and liberation will come from the side of the oppressed and not from the side of the oppressor, from those who have experienced their dehumanization most profoundly and interiorly in communion with others rather than from those who have dehumanized them and in the process have dehumanized themselves. The oppressed are the ones who feel the problem of dehumanization most acutely and understand it most profoundly, especially when they understand what they have been deprived of as human beings.

Postmodernity has come to experience modernity as oppressive and dehumanizing. This is true for philosophy at the center of the modern world as well as at the periphery, or away from the centers of intellectual influence that are in collusion with the ruling economic powers. From the margin, however, the question arises as to whether the metanarrative of postmodernity at the center has truly transcended the narrative of modernity. Euro-centered postmodernityhas been largely a passage from illusion to disillusionment, a self-conscious fall from utopia into dystopia, a sheer disintegration of the modern narrative with an affirmation of nothing for the new historical consciousness. It has remained a pendent to modernity, a determinate negation, to put it in Hegelian terms, with-out any positive result of its own, without any Aufhebung. Postmodernity at the margin cannot be satisfied with such negative results. It has too much at stake in the struggle for recognition in its own historical consciousness.

Postmodernity has become a matter of questioning and debate among Latin Americans, both in the shape it has taken at the heart of a Euro-centered narrative and the shape it has to take at the margin for a really new metanarrative that will free us from the old narrative of modernity. Dei tells us something of these debates as well as his own with an all too self-centered postmodernity that still wants to impose its own a priori rules for a discourse-ethic intent on preserving its advantage or its domination over the other. For postmodernity is a still too ethnic culture that persists in treating the narrative of other cultures as subsidiary in historical consciousness, as primitive or curious and perhaps even as interesting, but as of little or no consequence in the world historical process of humanization. Postmodernity's spirit can only trivialize the historical accomplishments of other societies whether by destroying them in the age of colonialism or undermining them through commercialization of everything in the age of neo-colonialism. None of this will do for a truly universal ethic of humanization in which nothing truly human is to be lost or discarded from historical consciousness.

In response to what he sees as shortcomings in the metanarrative of post-modernity on the northern axis of Europe and America, Dei offers the beginnings of what strives to be a really new narrative based on the existential originality of human being in history. It is a narrative in which philosophy is closely linked with the future prospects of the human project in history. In it philosophy is viewed, not just as an exercise in linguistic virtuosity verging on sophistry or as will to power, but as a search for meaning and truth about being human at the ever-present historical juncture where human being encounters another human being in mutual recognition and in the labor of humanizing the world. It is a philosophy, not just of information about how to overcome the other, but of communication with the other in which everyone is empowered to be fully human in a cultural space.

This is the kind of philosophy one is more likely to find at the margin than at the centers of power, among the oppressed rather than among the oppressors, a pedagogy of the oppressed coming from the wretched of the earth who under-stand better than anyone else that they still have much to gain in humanization. Dei makes no apologies for taking his stand at the margin. That is where he finds the metaphysical ground for affirming human existence in its properly ontological as well as historical dimension. Freedom has a constitutive dimension by reason of its very metaphysical marginality. It actualizes itself in one culture

or another, which can veil freedom from itself, but which can also disclose it to itself in a communion with others. In other words, for Dei freedom in history is a sort of anthropophany, which he tries to justify in what he calls his anthropodicy, a view of history as justification of human existence for everyone able to enter into communion with others in search of meaning and justice.

Power is an important part of this view, but more in its internal and meta-physical dimension than in its natural propensity to dominate and lord it over others. It is a power to create one's own space in time, to make one's own place in history, to take one's own stand along with others, a freedom to be rather than just a freedom to have. But it is through the exercise of power in language and in the control of information as well as in the use of force that the promise of freedom can also be dissipated in a way that language games or deconstruction can-not reintegrate. For Dei this means that a proper anthropodicy cannot be complete without a positive sense of justice and law grounded in the metaphysical dignity and the ontological freedom and consistency of every human being. In other words, anthropodicy as viewed from the margin, where people have very little to defend besides their very being, requires a more substantive philosophy of law to go with its strong sense of community, something more than one finds in an abstract, loosely worded social contract dictated from on high that serves largely to maintain the status quo for those already in control behind the veil of ignorance they cast around themselves. In other words, it requires a conception of law based on the mutual recognition one finds in any community with a historical consciousness of its own.

This is a narrative for postmodernity at the turn of the twenty-first century that comes to us from the margin. Like any narrative it is framed from a particular place in history, from the margin as viewed only from the center or from a particular margin as viewed from other communities at the margin. This narrative has the flavor of Latin America , which has its own cultural mix of relations with the center as well as with the indigenous, the other who remains historically present in the consciousness of a mestizo transplanted from Europe to America . Nevertheless, the narrative is addressed to all human beings in their historical consciousness. It makes universal claims as an anthropodicy that should be of interest to any human being, especially those of us who find our-selves perhaps identifying more with the culture of the center than any at the margin as we turn into a new millennium. It is not a new millenarianism like that of modernity. It is a critique of all such millenarianisms, but one that does not stop at antimillenarianism. It is an approach to a new narrative that has echoes of a more ancient narrative when philosophy had to struggle against those who called themselves sophists, earlier technocrats of speech for its own sake. It is an approach to a real future for humanity in its historical consciousness. Coming from the margin, where the struggle for a better future often takes its purest form, unencumbered by a plethora of possessions, it may have a better chance of presenting the question of human being or of being human in its more universal-world historical terms as a pleroma of human fulfillment, applicable in any culture and across all cultures.

As such, it should be of interest to us who are still more closely identified with an all too encumbered center. It is good to have this narrative translated into the language that has become largely that of the center. Hopefully, it will open up the philosophical discourse of this language to matters of more universal concern for an ever more historically conscious humanity. Oliva Blanchette Boston College


Humanism and the Humanities in the Twenty-First Century by William S. Haney and Peter Malekin (Bucknell University Press) The purpose of the book is to raise questions about the underlying paradigms of contemporary learning and social thinking, including the nature of consciousness and the mind, the purpose and conduct of education, the role of science and scientific methodologies, the place of art and literature, our relationship to the environment, our concepts of spirituality, our attitudes to the past and also what we are doing to our own future. It therefore deliberately breaks with established discourses and undermines current notions of the expert and the specialist.

The central concern of the contributors to this volume is our humanity, what it means or should mean to be human, what is a humane society, and how we should live in relation to totalities that are greater than modern humankind. Our humanity is not a collection of separate parts welded into a temporary unity, but a whole partially and often inadequately expressed in our activities and aspirations. The book moves toward this new thinking, and its contributors come from different disciplines and often work outside conventional boundaries. They ask how we should change our mode of thinking, economics, critical theory, theology, our relationship to science, our relation to the past and whatever future we are choosing now.

The range of the volume is extensive. It draws on the scientific investigation of consciousness, Christian theology, western and eastern aesthetics, metaphysics and models of the mind, the study of literature, painting, theater, and the arts.

The first three chapters broach the subject of consciousness itself, and its relationship to time, space, matter, language, and emphasize the need to develop the potential of human consciousness rather than simply changing concepts. The next three chapters apply these principles to the interpretation of individual works of literature, with chapter 7 providing an overview of the radical tradition of humanism. The epilogue is a science fiction story by Brian Aldiss illustrating one of our possible futures.

Religions of Star Trek by Ross Shepard Kraemer, William Cassidy, Susan Schwartz (Westview) remarkable treatment of the religious themes threading through one of America's science-fiction icons. . Religions of Star Trek tackles these challenging questions head-on and examines in detail the humanistic vision of creator Gene Roddenberry. It is a remarkable look at one of sci-fi's great success stories.
Is there a God? What evil lurks beyond the stars? Can science save one's soul? Profound questions like these have consumed human thought over the ages; they also inspired the original creators of the Star Trek canon of TV series and films
Analyzing more than three decades of screen adventure, the authors depict a Star Trek transformed, corresponding to the resurgence of religion in American public discourse. The authors analyze Star Trek's many religious characters, tracing the roots of scientific humanism to more contemporary aspects of religion and spirituality. Through it all, the creators' visionary outlook remains constant: a humanistic faith in free will and the salvific nature of dispassionate scientific inquiry.
Religions of Star Trek was not prepared, licensed, approved, or endorsed by any entity involved in creating or producing the "Star Trek" television series or films.


A Reader

edited by Gregory Wolfe

Free Press

$25.00, hardcover, 336 pages, index


Religious humanism has often been highly by fundamentalists and even scientistic humanists recent years. As a tradition the polemics of secular humanism has falsified the grand tradition of open ,humane inquiry that represents the best of religious humanism. THE NEW RELIGIOUS HUMANISTS offers some noteworthy exceptions to this entrenchment. It is a collection of writings by individuals who offer us reasoned and compassionate alternatives to the cultural rancor currently generated by anthropological relativism on the one hand and fundamentalist absolutism on the other. These essays bear a very significant message that needs to be given a wide hearing. The kind of humanism that insists that we human beings are the ultimate arbiters of truth and meaning has gotten us into serious trouble. But there is a profound alternative, one that views each human person as a valued creature of God, called to explore and enjoy the creation’s splendors. This book makes a compelling case for the relevance of --indeed, the urgent need for — religious humanism in our contemporary cultural context. here we are reawakened to a rational imagination that is open to sacramental vision. These thoughtful essays, from a variety of perspectives, arouse the hope that a new springtime of religious humanism could be at hand."

The reader includes three previously unpublished essays: "Christian Opportunities in a Post-Modem Era" by Robert Royal; "Filling the Hollow Core: Religious Faith and the postmodern University" by Wilfred M. McClay; and "Abortion and the Search for Common Ground" by Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Sidney Hook Reconsidered  by Matthew J. Cotter (Prometheus Books) The current intensification of scholarly interest in the response of US intellectuals to the rise and fall of American and Soviet Communism, the cold war, the radical student movements on campuses throughout the country, and neoconservatism has brought the controversial and fascinating views of Sidney Hook (1902-1989) once again to the attention of scholars of US thought and culture. Beginning his career as the first US scholar of Marxism, a leading disciple of John Dewey's naturalism and critical inquiry, and an early supporter of Marxist ideals, Hook eventually came to be well known as one of the most vigorous opponents of Stalinism. Throughout his long an unquiet life, Hook was revered as the heir to Dewey's legacy of critical intelligence and democracy and was renowned as a brilliant polemicist. Yet he was an independent thinker, unconstrained by conventional (and increasingly polarized) American political thought-often eliciting criticism from all points of the political spectrum.

In SIDNEY HOOK RECONSIDERED, Matthew J. Cotter edits a collection of essays originally presented at a centennial celebration honoring Hook's life and career. Articles by both former students, colleagues, allies, and adversaries, as well as younger scholars, who offer fresh insights into Hook's philosophical significance, are included. David Sidorsky contributes a detailed introduction to the development of Hook's work and thought; the remaining essays are divided into three parts. The first deals with Hook's role in the American philosophical tradition, with essays by Barbara Forrest, Robert B. Talisse, Michael Eldridge, Paul Kurtz, and Marvin Kohl. topics discussed include Hook's thoughts on philosophical pragmatism, secularism, the use of violence, and dogmatic politics versus public inquiry. The second part addresses Hook's place in the intellectual tradition of the United States, with essays by Steven M. Cahn, Christopher Phelps, Edward Shapiro, Gary Bullert, and Neil Jumonville. Hook's early affiliation with Marxism; his connection to his mentor, John Dewey; and his thoughts on education and open discussion are among the issues presented. The final part consists of reminiscences by three men who knew Hook personally: Nathan Glazer, Tibor R. Machan, and Bruce Wilshire.

With a full bibliography of Hook's works and reviews of them, plus an afterword by Richard Rorty, this outstanding collection of essays presents an excellent reassessment of one of the United States' most misunderstood public philosophers and will make provocative reading for anyone interested in the intellectual history of the cold war and the complex sociopolitics of the twentieth century.

The celebration of the centenary of Sidney Hook's birth took place on October 25 and 26, 2002, at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY)....

The essays in this book were originally presented at that conference, which, like much of Hook's career, was not without controversy. Although this is not the place for reminiscing about the difficulties associated with planning...such an event, the conference, especially the possibility that there might not have been one, brought the career of Sidney Hook once more to the forefront of American intellectual affairs, briefly garnering him national attention. Moreover, given the current scholarly interest in McCarthyism and the cold war, the increasing influence of neoconservatism in shaping US public policy, the involvement of the US military in what appears to be an interminable conflict, and the perennial problems facing many of the United States' educational institutions, the work of Sidney Hook is more relevant than ever. The times are ripe for revisiting and appraising his entire corpus responsibly, in lieu of simply dismissing him wholesale because of some of the controversial stands he took....

The value of Sidney Hook's life and work can best be estimated by the degree to which they speak to our own experiences, especially in a time when our own democratic institutions and principles appear to be in retreat and when in the face of innumerable human tragedies we are again reminded of the precariousness of human life in a dangerous world. In light of his philosophical vigor, vigilance, and resoluteness, Hook may thus be thought of as the philosopher of modern US democracy and education in the most meaningful sense of those terms.

Headline 3

insert content here